Dizziness is the feeling of being lightheaded, woozy, or unbalanced. It affects the sensory organs, specifically the eyes and ears, so it can sometimes cause fainting. Dizziness isn’t a disease, but rather a symptom of various disorders.
Vertigo and disequilibrium may cause a feeling of dizziness, but those two terms describe different symptoms. Vertigo is characterized by a spinning sensation, like the room is moving. It may also feel like motion sickness or as if you’re leaning to one side. Disequilibrium is a loss of balance or equilibrium. True dizziness is the feeling of lightheadedness or nearly fainting.
Dizziness is common and its underlying cause usually isn’t serious. Occasional dizziness is not something to worry about. However, you should call your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing repeated episodes of dizziness for no apparent reason or for a prolonged period.
Common causes of dizziness include a migraine, medications, and alcohol. It can also be caused by a problem in the inner ear, where balance is regulated.
Dizziness is often a result of vertigo as well. The most common cause of vertigo and vertigo-related dizziness is benign positional vertigo (BPV). This causes short-term dizziness when someone changes positions quickly, such as sitting up in bed after lying down.
Dizziness and vertigo can also be triggered by Meniere’s disease. This causes fluid to build up in the ear with associated ear fullness, hearing loss, and tinnitus. Another possible cause for dizziness and vertigo is an acoustic neuroma. This is a noncancerous tumor that forms on the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain.
Some other possible causes of dizziness include:
- sudden drop in blood pressure
- heart muscle disease
- decrease in blood volume
- anxiety disorders
- anemia (low iron)
- hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- ear infection
- heat stroke
- excessive exercise
- motion sickness
In rare cases, dizziness could be caused by multiple sclerosis, a stroke, malignancy, or another brain disorder.
People experiencing dizziness may feel various sensations, including:
- lightheadedness or feeling faint
- a false sense of spinning
- loss of balance
- feeling of floating or swimming
Sometimes, dizziness is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or fainting. Seek emergency medical help if you have these symptoms for extended periods.
You should call your doctor if you continue to have repeated bouts of dizziness. You should also notify your doctor immediately if you experience sudden dizziness along with:
- a head injury
- a headache
- a neck ache
- a high fever
- blurred vision
- hearing loss
- difficulty speaking
- numbness or tingling
- droopiness of the eye or mouth
- loss of consciousness
- chest pain
- ongoing vomiting
These symptoms could indicate a serious health problem, so it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Your doctor can narrow down the cause of dizziness and any other symptoms by performing a physical examination. They’ll ask you questions about your dizziness, including:
- when it occurs
- in what situations
- the severity of symptoms
- other symptoms that occur with the dizziness
Your doctor may also check your eyes and ears, do a neurological physical exam, observe your posture, and perform tests to check balance. Depending on the suspected cause, an imaging test such as a CT scan or MRI might be recommended.
In some cases, no cause for dizziness is determined.
Treatment for dizziness focuses on the underlying cause. In most cases, home remedies and medical treatments can control the cause of dizziness. For example:
- Inner-ear issues may be managed with medications and at-home exercises that can help control balance.
- BPV can be resolved with maneuvers that can help alleviate symptoms. Surgery is an option for patients whose BPV is not otherwise controlled.
- Meniere’s disease is treated with a healthful low-salt diet, occasional injections, or ear surgery.
- Migraines are treated with medications and lifestyle changes, such as learning to identify and avoid migraine triggers.
- Medication and anxiety-reducing techniques can help with anxiety disorders.
- Drinking plenty of fluids can help when dizziness is caused by excessive exercise, heat, or dehydration.
Most cases of dizziness clear up on their own once the underlying cause is treated. In rare cases, dizziness can be a sign of a more serious health problem.
Dizziness may result in complications when it causes fainting or a loss of balance. This can be especially dangerous when a person is driving or operating heavy machinery. Use caution if you feel an episode of dizziness coming on. If you become dizzy, stop driving immediately or find a safe place to steady yourself until it passes.
Follow these tips if you have recurrent bouts of dizziness:
- Sit or lie down immediately when you feel dizzy and rest until the dizziness goes away. This can prevent the possibility of losing your balance, which may lead to falling and serious injury.
- Use a cane or walker for stability, if necessary.
- Always use handrails when walking up or down the stairs.
- Do activities that improve balance, such as yoga and Tai Chi.
- Avoid moving or switching positions suddenly.
- Avoid driving a car or operating heavy machinery if you frequently experience dizziness without warning.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. Using these substances may trigger dizziness or make it worse.
- Drink at least eight glass of water a day, get seven hours or more of sleep, and avoid stressful situations.
- Eat a healthful diet that consists of vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins to help prevent dizziness.
- If you suspect your dizziness is being caused by a medication, talk to your doctor about lowering the dose or switching to another medication.
- Take an over-the-counter medication, such as meclizine (Antivert) or an antihistamine, if you experience nausea along with dizziness. These medications may cause drowsiness, so don’t use them when you need to be active or productive.
- Rest in a cool place and drink water if your dizziness is being caused by overheating or dehydration.
Always talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about the frequency or severity of your dizziness.
Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Published on Sep 23, 2013
Medically reviewed on Apr 12, 2016 by [Ljava.lang.Object;@2930421c